Hand, foot and mouth disease on the rise

Monday, October 31, 2016

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THE Ministry of Health yesterday expressed concerns about the increase in the number of cases of hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD), and urged school administrators to be very cautious in how they handle the outbreak to prevent the spread of the highly contagious disease among the school population.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Winston De La Haye, in a release yesterday, reminded parents to keep infected children at home for at least seven days. "School administrators should regularly clean and disinfect areas, especially places where young children frequent," he said in a release yesterday.

Administrators were also urged to report any case of HFMD to their parish health departments and to request assistance.

"This comes in light of an increase in reports of cases of hand foot and mouth disease in Kingston and St Andrew as well as St Catherine. The Ministry of Health is providing information on the disease so that parents and schools [can be] equipped to take the required actions to reduce the spread of the virus," the ministry said

Children can become infected with the virus from other children through close contact, such as hugging, or sharing cups and eating utensils, contact with faeces as well as other contaminated objects and surfaces.

"There is no vaccine to prevent the disease. However, simple steps like regular hand washing and practising good hygiene can help reduce the risk of infection," the health ministry said. HFMD is a mild virus which mainly affects children under age five, but adults can become infected as well.

This fresh wave of the virus comes just more than a year after the last outbreak in September 2015. Up to yesterday, the virus had spread to close to 100 schools across the island, infecting more than 300 children. Most of the affected schools were in St Catherine, followed by Kingston and St. Andrew.

The Government was in 2015 criticised for not shutting down schools as soon as the earliest cases were detected, but then education minister Ronald Thwaites and the health minister Dr Fenton Ferguson said such drastic action would have been premature. "We think balancing the need for school time and following the requirements of the Ministry of Health is a reasonable response," Thwaites said then. Eventually a number of the affected schools were closed.


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